Aimee Copeland’s Potential Legal Case

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 29, 2012

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Last week, former University of Georgia student Aimee Copeland returned to her home after spending several months in Georgia hospitals. In May, the 24 year old Aimee found her life in danger after she contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a deadly flesh eating bacteria, when the zip-line she was riding broke and caused her to fall into the river and gash her left calf open. In the immediate aftermath of Aimee’s injury, her life was in critical condition as the virus ravaged her limbs and internal organs. After months of surgeries that left her without major parts of all four of her limbs, young Aimee has finally been released to her family.

Living with prosthetic hands, a prosthetic right leg, and a missing left leg will certainly be a tough adjustment for Aimee who, by all accounts, has handled the ordeal with a positive attitude and lots of laughter with friends and family. Reading her story, it is hard not to envy her optimism and positive attitude in the face of a clearly unenviable situation.

As Aimee moves forward with her new life, it is likely that legal action will become a part of it. The elements of a personal injury case are hard to avoid:

  1. The zip-line was a homemade job, and the person who made either invited people to use it or left it in a position that they should have known it would be used likely had a duty to make sure the zip-line was safely installed and maintained (or removed if this was not possible)
  2. Once the zip-line broke, that duty to keep the zip-line in usable condition was violated
  3. Any time someone makes something like a zip-line, they should be able to foresee the chance of injury from its use. While the exact injury may be very difficult to predict, the defendant in a personal injury case is often responsible for any injuries that stem from the predictable harm. In this case, because it is predictable that someone could fall off the zip-line and injure themselves, a defendant would likely be legally liable for all of Aimee’s injuries
  4. Unless the zip-line was noticeably damaged immediately before she took her fated ride, Aimee appears to be blameless in her injury

A big question in Aimee’s case will be who she can sue, and how much can she recover. Aimee can likely pursue the following defendants:

  1. The person who made the zip-line
  2. The person who owns the land the zip-line was on, regardless if they knew it was there or not. Premises liability law places a large burden on someone who owns land that people openly frequent. If this was public land, Aimee may have a hard time pursuing the government responsible for maintaining the area, particularly if the zip-line was not permitted
  3. The maker of the cord which was used to build the zip-line under a defective product law. This defendant may be difficult to pursue because there is a chance the cord was being used incorrectly

Of course, the most important thing as Aimee adjusts to her new life out of the hospital is getting healthy and staying positive about her future opportunities. If she were to pursue legal action, Aimee could be awarded a significant recovery. Whether or not any of the responsible parties are able to pay her is another significant question, but that question will come if, and when, her legal case pans out.

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